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Janfeb2011/s70200oldkt2.jpg
Box and contents

 
The Sony A580 and A900 were used for this review.  The APS-C section is first, followed by the full frame differences.  The usual side-by-side test crops are located at the very bottom of the page.  For a better understanding of terms and methods used in this review, go here.   Check out the differences between this lens and three other similar lenses.
 
 
This lens was discontinued by Sigma in early 2012, and replaced by their newest 70-200mm F/2.8 lens, also reviewed here.

 
Introduction.
 
The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 II HSM macro telephoto zoom lens is made in Japan and features a constant fast aperture of F/2.8 with a nice build quality and focusing system, similar to Sony's 70-200mm G lens.  It looks like most of the lens is made of metal, and feels very solid in the hand.  The zoom and focus movements are smooth and quiet.  The lens body has a nice matte black finish, with the zoom and focus rings, hood and the tripod collar being the standard Sigma sparkly finish that looks cheap in my opinion.  This lens was designed for a full frame camera.  If you have an APS-C camera, the equivalent capture area will be 105mm-300mm. 
 
The official name for this lens is; Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX DG APO macro HSM II, although not always in that order.  If you break down the abbreviations, you come up with following which is directly from Sigma's website; EX which means; "the exterior of this lens is EX-finished to denote the superior build and optical quality, and to enhance its appearance."  DG means; "these are large-aperture lenses with wide angles and short minimum focusing distances. With an abundance of peripheral illumination, they are ideal lenses for Digital SLR Cameras whilst retaining suitability for traditional 35mm SLRs."  HSM is; "this lens uses a motor driven by ultrasonic waves to provide a quiet, highspeed AF."  APO is; "in order to attain the highest quality images, the APO lens has been made using special low-dispersion (SLD) glass and is designed to minimize color aberration."  All that sounds like a bunch of crap if I may say so myself!  A couple of other items to note; the "Macro" designation usually means is can focus closely at full zoom with a reproduction rate larger than 0.25x.  The "II" means the lens has been upgraded in some way from the original.  Most 70-200mm F/2.8 lenses have the same things as the Sigma, they just use different marketing BS aimed at novices to make their products look superior.  
 
The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 HSM II is fairly basic in that is has no focus hold, or focus limiter switches, the only switch is the AF/MF on the side.  There is an adjustable tripod collar that separates in the middle by way of a knob that unscrews and pulls up for release.  To rotate the collar you simply loosen the knob, adjust and re-tighten.
 
The zoom action is just right for one or two finger rotation, and it seems to stay put with normal use.  Focal length index marks come at 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm and 200mm, and the EXIF data matches those lengths, although when set at 85mm the camera data often reads 90mm, no big deal.  The zoom movement is internal, meaning the lens doesn't change length when zooming.    
 
In the box is the lens, front and rear caps, petal shaped plastic hood with ridges on the inside, black padded softcase with strap, and owner's manual with warranty card.  
 
Focusing.  The very large focusing ring is near the front part of the lens, and does not turn during auto-focusing.  If you want to tweak the focus point in AF mode, just turn the manual focusing ring at any time for instant focus override.  Focusing is done internally, so there is no lens length change or filter ring rotation.  This lens uses a quiet HSM or "hyper sonic motor" for AF, and is very similar in design and operation to Sony's SSM, or "super sonic wave motor."   Both systems use a motor inside the lens to adjust focus, instead of the older Minolta and Sony slot/screw drive set up dating back to 1985.  Sigma's HSM system focuses pretty fast, and mostly accurately, although ultimate accuracy will depend on each camera and lens calibration.  Going from close focus to infinity takes almost a 1/2 turn of the ring, which makes manually focusing more precise, that is, if your eye sight is good enough to see the sharpness changes in the viewfinder.   
 
Note; Sigma's owner's manual makes the following statement when using Sigma teleconverters; "In case of Sony AF mount, it is possible to use AF when attaching TCs with a serial number above 5000001.  AF will not work if the TCs serial number is lower than 5000001."
 
 

APRIL2011/BHbanner.gif

 
 
Product shots of the review lens.

Janfeb2011/s70200oldsd.jpg
Side view
Janfeb2011/s70200oldbk.jpg
Backside showing AM/MF switch
Janfeb2011/s70200oldft.jpg
Front element
Janfeb2011/s70200tc.jpg
Removeable tripod collar
APRIL2011/sighsm702000mtf2.jpg
MTF chart from Sigma

 

 

General information and specifications.

 

Lens

Box contents

Front and rear caps, users manual, tripod collar, hood and soft case.

Cost

$949 at time of review, discontinued in 2012.

Build quality

Very good

Additional information

Different design than the more expensive Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

Specifications below

 

Optical configuration

18 elements in 15 groups

Angle of view

34°-12° full frame, 23°-8° APS-C measured on the diagonal.

Aperture

9 blades, curved

Full frame and APS-C

Made for full-frame, but works fine on APS-C.   APS-C equivalent, 105-300mm

Depth of field and focus scales?

Focus distance window, and focal length index marks at 70mm, 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, and 200mm.

Minimum focus, image plane to subject

38.9"  (988mm)

Minimum focus, end of lens barrel to subject

29.4"  (747mm)

Hard stop at infinity focus?

No

Length changes when focusing?

No

Focus ring turns in AF?

No

Filter size

77mm

Filter ring rotates?

No

Distance encoder?

No
 

Max magnification

0.28x, or 1:3.5

Min. F/stop

F/22  

Sony teleconverter compatible?

No

Length changes when zooming?

No

Dimensions WxL  (my measurements)

3.4" x 7.25"   87mm x 184mm.  

Maximum  extended length (my measurements)

7.25"  (184mm)                                                    

Weight bare (my scale)

42.2oz (1196g) bare.  Tripod collar 4.9oz (138).  Hood, 2.4oz, (68g).  All together including caps, hood and collar, 50.5oz (1431g).

 
 
Optical qualities summary.
 
Lens flare/ghosting.  Average for a telephoto zoom.  I see mostly green ghosts if the sun is at the edge, or inside the image.  Look below for examples.  Veiling glare seems a little strong as you zoom out, so prepare to block the sun or other super-bright light source with your hand to keep the contrast up in your shots, if the sun isn't actually in the shot.  

Color fringing (CA).  Slightly below average control.  Look for moderate to strong amounts of lateral color fringing at and near 200mm, diminishing to almost nothing at 70mm.  See full frame section for sample crop.  I see some mild axial color fringing at large apertures.
 
Bokeh.  Looks pretty smooth towards the long end, and just a hair busy at the short end.  Check out the sample crops below.
 
Color.   Slightly warm as compared to Sony lenses. 
 
Close up filter.  N/A    
 
Coma.  None.
 
Regular filters cause no additional light fall-off problems.  
 
Filter size is 77mm.  This is the standard size for most 70-200mm F/2.8 zooms.  Sony lenses that use 77mm filters are; CZ 24-70mm F/2.8, 70-200mm F/2.8 G, CZ 135mm F/1.8, 11-18mm F/4.5-5.6, and the 70-400mm G.
 
Distortion.  You'll notice mild to moderate barrel distortion at 70mm, mostly flat around 85mm, but pincushion starts quickly as you zoom out.  Check out the cropped samples below.
 
Image samples from APS-C camera below.
 

APRIL2011/sigIIwidis.jpg
70mm, mild barrel distortion.
APRIL2011/sigIIteldis.jpg
200mm, mild pincushion distortion.

 
Bokeh quality.
 

           70mm F/2.8

             70mm F/4

APRIL2011/sigIIbok7028.jpg
APRIL2011/sigIIbok7040.jpg

           200mm F/2.8 

             200mm F/4

APRIL2011/sigIIbok20028.jpg
APRIL2011/sigIibok20040.jpg

 

Out of focus background highlights look pretty smooth zoomed out, and the 70mm highlights showing a little blurred point in the middle, visible in the F/2.8 70mm crops, and very minor ringed blur at 70mm, F/4.     

 

 
Light fall-off.
 

           70mm F/2.8

             70mm F/4

APRIL2011/sigII70200vigw28.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII70200vigw40.jpg

           200mm F/2.8 

             200mm F/4

APRIL2011/sigII70200t28.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII70200t40.jpg

 
Light fall-off or corner shading is not noticeable in real pictures at any focal length or aperture using an APS-C camera.   
 
 
 
 
Let's check out the macro capabilities of this lens.

Below, check out the 100% cropped portion (760kb) of the full image.  The sample shot was taken with the Sony A580 16.2MP camera.  Don't directly compare this sample with most other stamp shots as they were taken with the Sony A700 12.2mp camera.  The subject is a standard US stamp, 0.87"x 1.0" or 22mm x 25mm.  Also, note the macro shot was taken as close to the subject as focusing allowed; in this case a long 29.4" (747mm), measured from the front of the lens barrel to the subject.  
 
This lens has a reproduction size of 0.28x which is quite large for a telephoto zoom lens, and produced a sharp, close shot of the postage stamp.  F/8 was the sharpest at close focus, but F/5.6 and F/11 looked good also.  There is strong color fringing along the black letters and numbers.  As a side note; the "1996" on the bottom left of the stamp measures a mere 1mm wide.
 

APRIL2011/sig70200hsmIImac9102.jpg
Close focus. F/8. Click for larger image.

 

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Full frame results using the Sony A900.

 

Check out the differences when using a full frame camera below.  I'm only pointing out the noticeable issues as compared to the APS-C bodies, so if I don't show it here, the results are not significantly different enough to warrant posting an additional set of images in this section.

 

Light fall-off 

 

           70mm F/2.8

             70mm F/4

APRIL2011/sigII70200ffvigw28.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII70200ffvigw40.jpg

           200mm F/2.8

             200mm F/4

APRIL2011/sigII70200ffvigt28.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII70200ffvigt40.jpg

 

Light fall-off is a little stronger with full frame coverage, but only noticeable when the lens is wide open and zoomed out.  There is no additional light fall off when using regular thickness filters, such as polarizers, UV protectors etc.

 

Flare and ghosting issues.

 

70mm F/5.6

70mm F/5.6

APRIL2011/sigII7056gst.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII7056gst2.jpg

200mm F/2.8

200mm F/5.6 

APRIL2011/sigII20028gst2.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII20056gst.jpg

 

I see some green ghosts when the sun is in the image, and some flare when the sun is outside the image.  The bottom left shot shows some strong flare even when the sun is far from the frame.  A fix for this is holding your hand up to block the sun.  The hood works ok, but not as good as you hand. 

 

Full image from A900 below illustrating light fall-off.

 

APRIL2011/sigIIvigffover.jpg

 

This boring full scene shows light fall-off from 200mm, F/2.8.  It's hardly noticeable and poses no problems in my opinion.  Shot was taken at 200mm, F/2.8, ISO 200 1/3200sec 0.30ev.    

 

Lateral color fringing.

 

APRIL2011/sigIIffcf.jpg

 

This full frame 200mm, F/5.6 crop shows somewhat strong color fringing, and was taken from the last 700 pixels of the image on the middle left side.  This type of color fringing doesn't go away as you stop down.  Look at the magenta, and to a lesser extent cyan colors along the house corners etc.     

 

Full frame distortion samples next.

 

APRIL2011/sigII70200disff70mm.jpg
Moderate barrel distortion @70mm
APRIL2011/sigII70200disff105mm.jpg
mild to moderate pincushion @105mm
APRIL2011/sigII70200disff200mm.jpg
Moderate to strong pincushion distortion @ 200mm

 

There is moderate barrel distortion at 70mm, but it flattens out very quickly, and by 85mm-100mm it turns to pincushion.  Thankfully the distortion shape is a simple curve, and is easy to fix with distortion correction sliders.

 

 

 

APRIL2011/BHbanner.gif

  
 
 
Conclusion. 
 

The Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 HSM II is a lower-cost alternative to the more expensive Sony model, also tested here.     

 

This Sigma fast telephoto zoom lens is very impressive for the price.  Build quality is very similar to the Sony, and it offers the same type of fast, almost silent focusing system, which uses a motor inside the lens, and works just as good as Sony's SSM in my opinion.  There are a couple of things missing though, there are no focus hold or focus limiter buttons to speed up focusing in certain situations, but not everyone will miss those items.   On the upside, the lens performs very well optically, with good contrast across the frame, especially at the short end, along with relatively low distortion and light fall-off, although color fringing at the long end is quite noticeable in some images.   

 

The Sigma 70-200mm HSM II is very sharp at almost all apertures near the short end, however, as you zoom out near 200mm, the image sides are not quite as sharp as the Sony or Tamron equivalents, but that's only visible when you display the crops side-by-side as I've done here, (see below). 

 

The Tamron 70-200mm F/2.8 also tested here performs about the same optically, but doesn't come close in focusing speed or build quality.

 

Final thoughts; Sigma's quality control is awful, I used three lenses for this review, the third lens they sent me was a winner.  If you want to try your luck, and are patient, you might wind up getting a good one, at which point you'll be hard pressed to tell the differences between the Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 HSM II and the Sony 70-200mm F/2.8 G, in both sharpness, focusing accuracy and speed.  At the time of this review the Sigma is about half the price of the Sony, which makes it a great bargain.....if you get a good one!

 

Check out the replacement for this discontinued lens;  Sigma 70-200mm F/2.8 OS HSM reveiw, and price here.

 
 
 
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
 
 
Sharpness crops next, using the full frame Sony A900.
 
70mm

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7028ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7028mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7028corn.jpg

F/4

APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7040ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7040mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7040corn.jpg

F/5.6

APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7056ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7056mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7056corn.jpg

F/8

APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7080ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7080mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7080corn.jpg

F/11

APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7011ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7011mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sgIIhsm7011corn.jpg

 

There isn't much change to see as you stop down, most of the boring crops look the same, and the small differences wouldn't be noticeable in real use.  The mid-section crops above are in the same general area as the corners would be using an APS-C camera.

 

200mm

 

 

          Center

          Mid-section

             Corner

F/2.8

APRIL2011/sigII200f28ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f28mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f28corn.jpg

F/4

APRIL2011/sigII200f40ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f40mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f40corn.jpg

F/5.6

APRIL2011/sigII200f56ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f56mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f56corn.jpg

F/8

APRIL2011/sigII200f80ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f80mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f80corn.jpg

F/11

APRIL2011/sigII200f11ctr.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f11mid.jpg
APRIL2011/sigII200f11corn.jpg

 

The 200mm centers are pretty sharp, even wide open, but as you move towards the sides of the image, resolution and contrast, (which is more noticable) deteriorate.  I see an abundance of color fringing in the corners too.  The mid-section crops above are in the same general area as the corners would be using an APS-C camera.